Kotoko tells The story of a single mother who suffers from double vision; caring for her baby is a nerve-wrecking task that eventually leads her to a nervous breakdown. She is suspected of being a child abuser when things get out of control and her baby is taken away. As you can tell, this probably won’t be labelled the ‘feel-good’ movie of the year. Once we realize Tsukamoto has nothing to say about either motherhood or the trauma of neurosis, the movie becomes nothing but a squirmy sequence of manipulative violence.
Kotoko barely has a plot. Not much actually occurs in the film, and what does makes very little sense. It feels really weird to feel that way and I was almost hesitant to type that, because I am usually a fan of this type of work. Writer/director/actor Tsukamoto, on the other hand, is well versed in the psychological drama. The filmmaker has taken on similar triple duty on the Tetsuo and Nightmare Detective films. The scenes appear to unfold naturally, with very little staging. Filmed with a reeling, zooming camera, the performances appear to unfold naturally, as if improvised, with little staging. In one of the most successful scenes in the film, Kotoko tries desperately to cook food in a wok, holding in her arms the baby who cries out, in a dramatic crescendo that passses the thresholds of sustainability.
A theme which curiously is also Ponyo / Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea and that could be traced back to Tsukamoto, the figure of Mizuko, the child of water, indicating the child was born dead or immature. With Kotoko Tsukamoto, after a spell is not entirely convincing, returns to filmmaking of the highest level, yet he still falls flat. Despite this, however, Kotoko is a film that involves the viewer and moves in ways not imagined by those who know the films of Japanese director. Here, the director from the everyday life of a mother move from the more natural protective instinct towards his son: the thematic choice of the director is a correspondent in the medium used, the use of a digital camera that gives the a documentary film cutting at times, without excluding, however, it drifts dreamlike and nightmarish.
Kotoko has indeed a certain visual sophistication, which is expressed mainly in careful reconstruction of the interior, in the constant presence of childhood objects and insistence on primary colors, parts of a world in which the protagonist is able to preserve the illusion of a shelter for him and his son. But if the film served one supreme purpose, it was more to mark the end of a chapter in Tsukamoto’s career. I am writing him off and will no longer be excited for any of his films. Perhaps this reveals Tsukamoto’s limitation as a filmmaker, in this and other films. It’s great that he sees that far, into a vision of humanity which is further than most directors doing horror related work are capable of, it’s a pity that he doesn’t see further.